The world has gone wrong.
I know this because I've spent more than a year reporting on it and writing books about how it has happened. A convoluted mess of greed, faulty politics, data harvesting, hacking, and espionage has combined with the weight of rising populism to create circumstances which are not only bewildering but often terrifying. And there is no simple cure, except in finding peace and community. In seeking nature, and the woods, and in leaving technology behind for a while.
In doing so, we can put more back into the world than many of us know.
I could have opened this with so many puns on current news and events, but I'm not branching out into comedy. Instead, I'm going out on a limb to suggest that we can collectively make like a tree and leaf it all behind.
Joking aside, this project is called The Hedge Fund because it is the antithesis of the type of investment which has ravaged us recently, vote by vote. And the idea is a simple one at heart: to invest a little in creating something with the potential to be a rather lovely antidote to what's happening around us.
The concept of the fund is to acquire, initially, one woodland to be managed traditionally. A place which will become home to a sustainable forestry environment, producing its own tools, timber, and the charcoal to fire a woodland forge. To provide quiet surroundings which can be visited and enjoyed, which can provide sanctuary and retreats. A place which may one day be home to a forest school and which will always provide bushcraft facilities.
Above all else, once a year, the aim will be to put on a show. A Midsummer Night's Dream in the woods. Because the world is the most under-used stage I know.
This is, in short, definitely not a for-profit project.
But the Hedge Fund is more still. An adventure everyone can be part of through beautiful online content – from blogs, to photographs, to mini-documentaries – about life in the woods, the natural home it provides, and the crafts and skills needed to keep it flourishing. It will provide a constant source of articles on sustainable activities, heritage projects, and I will be seeking out others across the country to help raise the profile of the good things we can achieve together.
Our environment is our most precious asset, and yet our most overlooked. But it's only by harnessing this that we can, perhaps, start to put some good back into the world. By taking care of it and, in turn, taking better care of one another again.
I'm not sure it stands a chance as a project but, in spite of the world around us, I think there is room for The Hedge Fund and I hope you will agree.
Several years ago, the Forestry Commission sold large tranches of forest and many of these were bought in large lots. Over the following years these were often sold on as smaller parcels for profit. As a result, the price of remaining woodland is now much higher than ever before.
For the first site we are realistically going to be looking for a parcel of between 3 and 6 acres of woodland within easy reach of a central location, Northampton – which provides good access to a broad range of available spaces. If we can find two parcels of land, we will leap at the chance.
The funding budget will be used to cover the purchase of the woodland and the relevant fees, along with essential outlay on tools and equipment, including the workshop structures, and the administration of your membership and web sites and content. After the first year, this will be self-funded through the sale of woodland craft products.
We hope to be able to register as a CIO with the Charity Commission, but at the beginning this will be very much a social enterprise of people coming together to financially support the acquisition and management of a woodland, effectively subscribing to the content the project will generate and having access to retreats and events as members.
As with all woodlands, there are specific rules around camping, and many have restrictive covenants which must be taken into account in planning our annual schedules.
You can find out a little more about my background before writing, when I was a police officer at Scotland Yard, in this Parliamentary report. I have since worked with international authorities and NGOs on fixing their crime statistics for the greater good.
After leaving the police I opened a pub but, because life has a funny way sometimes, it was put out of business by a lengthy road closure, leaving me bankrupt and destitute in early 2016. It was during that period, before I was discharged in March 2017, that I learned how kind people can be when you are literally starving, and I have a lot to be grateful for and much to pay forwards.
During those dark days, when I was living on rations of Gingernuts, I also wrote my first fiction novel, which brought me to my soulmate and, latterly, our amazing twin daughters. Which takes us to grand old total of five beautiful children!
As a journalist, I am a fully paid up member of the NUJ and write mostly for Byline, a crowdfunded, independent journalism site where I am not bound by editorial views or advertising revenues. I have been focused for the last year on how technology has been used to reshape and manipulate electorates, and how hostile foreign states have used hybrid warfare to destabilise established Western democracies.
In short, I've seen the very worst humans have to offer, yet I've seen enough good in people to see real hope for the future, if we work together on projects like the Hedge Fund.
I hope you can support this project but, whether it meets the target or not, I also hope you can take away a small amount of inspiration from reading about The Hedge Fund.